Help! I’m a Video Game Addict by Anonymous
I received the following letter in response to my request for submissions for the JewishMOM.com Personal Exodus from Egypt Contest…Unfortunately, this letter-writer is still stuck in her personal Egypt. So I asked my dear friend, therapist and writer Sara Debbie Gutfreund, to give this struggling JewishMOM some advice to set herself free, IY”H…
Dear Chana Jenny, I’m sure that by now you are getting slews of emails with peoples’ Exodus from Egypt stories. When I saw the contest post, I started to write straight away, because I love to write. But I never quite finished it… It just wasn’t working out, not perfect… it was missing a certain flame.
So I just saved the document and moved on. Back to my other screen, the backgammon board.
You see, Chana Jenny, I’ve got a bit of a challenge here. I’m practically addicted to the game. I downloaded and deleted the game from my phone twice, then finally got rid of the phone because I could not withstand the temptation of easy distractions.
Then I downloaded backgammon onto the iPad. For my son to learn to play, naturally, so we could bond over the game.
But I just can’t stop playing. I could hardly stop to sit and write this email to you, but thankfully the battery died, freeing me in a sense.
I know the situation has grown desperate because when I lay down to sleep all I can see is little pieces moving across the board. Chana Jenny, I don’t know what to do. I figure that since you must be getting lots of information on people leaving their mini-exiles you might have some words of inspiration for me. Truth is, though, I know that inspiration will hardly cut it. I need a person in here to force me to stop.
To elaborate a bit: I used to work very full time. I cut back so that I could be a less-stressed mom and keep up to date with housework, meal prep and such.
And now, instead of focusing on those tasks, I slip off to waste time. And then when I speak to my mother or good friend, I complain about how much I miss my work.
But I know what I really miss: I miss the deadlines and the sense of purpose.
So then I thought, “Great, let me work on finding a feeling of purpose in the home, finding meaning in the mundane.”
And I tried making that my role in life. But mostly, I just waste time. So now I\’m telling myself that I need to work on personal discipline and self control. Ha! I just turn to the freezer, crack off another piece of chocolate and keep going.
I feel like I’m spinning into a spiral of despair. I’m running out of excuses. There is so much to do I hardly have the brain space to list it all. I know I need to own up and start caring for my children and managing my home again, but I’m just slipping by, doing the least amount possible.
In thinking about my personality, I think this all is resulting from a bit of perfectionism. Like, if I can’t do it perfectly, then why try? I can clean up sure well when I’m having guests for a short stay, but to have to consistently manage my home at a high standard frightens me.
Currently the situation is that I’ll rush and do one or two things when I’ve run out of child-free time, because I wasted the past three hours. And then I’ll complain that I’m tired.
Of course I’m tired! I’ve been staring at a screen all day!
I don’t know what to do next. I’m so embarrassed to send this, but I\’d better put an email address in the top so that something good can come from this. Chana Jenny, I’ve become numb. I don’t like living like this anymore. I need help.
A response from therapist Sara Debbie Gutfreund
In May 2013 the DSM classified video game addiction as a disease characterized by similar symptoms to other classic addiction disorders such as addiction to alcohol and drugs. One of the earliest warning signs of any addiction is the extent to which it disrupts a person’s daily functioning. This is measured not just by how many hours you are actually spending playing games on your computer but also by how much time you spend thinking about and planning your next ‘high’ that you will experience when you are playing. In the beginning stages of any destructive habit or addiction, many people have lines that they draw in their minds such as:
1. I haven’t destroyed my physical health 2. I haven’t lost my relationship with my children 3. I haven’t seriously damaged my marriage 4. I haven’t lost control of my daily functioning
Try adding the word ‘yet’ at the end of each of the above sentences because an uncontrollable addiction can eventually take away everything important in your life until all you can think about is when and how you can disappear into ‘gaming’ again.
While your habit sounds like it began in order to satisfy a psychological need to alleviate boredom and stress, there is a cascade of chemical reactions in our brains that gradually creates an ongoing and growing need for the pleasure- delivering neurotransmitter, dopamine. The more you engage in the same habit, the less sensitive your brain becomes to the experience of pleasure and therefore, you will feel the need for more hours and more intensity in your gaming habit.
Because your habit sounds like it has crossed over this line into both a neuro-chemical and psychological need, you will need to be very patient with yourself as you begin your process of recovery.
The most effective proven treatment method for video game addiction is to find a 12-step program in your area that you can attend for at least the first thirty days that you are trying to break your habit. Most programs will guide addicts into a structured weaning program in which you gradually decrease the number of hours that you spend playing games on your computer. If you cannot find a program in your area or you can’t attend actual meetings for other reasons, then you can find support groups and 12-step programs online in which people can anonymously help one another navigate recovery using the 12-step principles.
However, eliminating the video game addiction from your life will probably not address your original psychological distress and boredom that you experienced when you first began ‘escaping’ into a virtual world to soothe your feelings of emptiness and stress.
Addiction expert, Dr. Avraham Twerski, explains that just as our bodies don’t function well when we are missing certain vitamins, our minds and our souls sense when we are lacking direction and meaning in our lives. Dr. Twerski calls this spiritual deficiency syndrome, and its only cure is the relentless, difficult search for our true selves that we must all engage in each day. We are fortunate that we have the gift of the Torah to help us in this search, and even listening to a shiur once or twice a week online can begin to transform your perspective.
Here are a few additional points to keep in mind as you begin your journey to recovery.
1. Many addicts have spent so many hours ‘self soothing’ when life became boring or difficult that they find themselves unable to tolerate ordinary levels of discomfort and stress. It helps to remind yourself daily that normal life is hard for everybody. That stress is inevitable and to be expected. And that every time you tolerate discomfort/boredom without turning to your destructive habit, you are strengthening your ‘coping’ muscles so that they can function again.
2. For the first thirty days or perhaps for longer (depending on how severe your addiction/habit was) make sure you have super low expectations of yourself and your day. Don’t expect to stop gaming and begin cooking three-course dinners or to become Mrs. Supermom, suddenly able to give full attention to your children and your home. Just aim to cover the basics and consider the day a success if you have abstained from your destructive habit.
3. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Many addicts initially feel guilty when they attend to their own needs because they have spent many hours ‘selfishly’ engaging in their habits. This can make it challenging for you to recognize and take care of your authentic needs. The 12-step programs warn those recovering to remember HALT: not to let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Failing to recognize and deal with these legitimate needs sets you up for relapse.
Most importantly, as you go through this recovery process, know that you are not alone. We all go through times in life when we struggle, and forming a bad habit to deal with negative feelings is a common and frequent strategy that many of us mistake as a short cut to feeling better. It is only when we recognize that the short cut is a trap that we can begin to find another way.
Hatzlachah on your journey, Sara Debbie Gutfreund
Sara Debbie Gutfreund received her BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania and her MA in Family Therapy from the University of North Texas. She has taught parenting classes and self-development seminars and provided adolescent counseling. She writes extensively for many online publications and in published anthologies of Jewish women’s writing. She and her husband spent 14 wonderful years raising their five children in Israel, and now live in Blue Ridge Estates in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Sara Debbie enjoys skiing and running in her free time.